Almost Everything and the Kitchen Sink

During our class tour of the Huguenot Street houses, I took great interest in the Deyo House. Since I live in a home that was built in 1871, a brick Victorian located in the City of Poughkeepsie. Know a little bit of the background regarding the Deyos and their wealth, it was interesting to see how money was spent during the renovation of the stone house to its mostly current state.

As the staff brought us through a portion of the downstairs, we dwelled in the dining room. Furnished and decorated in a manner that emulated the time, I couldn’t wait to see the kitchen. So imagine my surprise to see a time capsule of a 1950’s kitchen. When still privately owned by the Brodhead/LeFevre/Wood families, “the kitchen was periodically renovated to make it state of the art. They installed new appliances, changed floor coverings, and created storage space as needed” (84).

According to Ashley Trainor, the Collections Manager at Huguenot Street, consideration had been taken regarding returning the kitchen back to its pre-mid-century aesthetic. It would be very expensive project to accomplish. From demolition to rebuilding the room in order to replicate a previous era was extremely cost prohibitive. Additionally, an upgrade made to the house was the introduction of indoor plumbing. This was important to keep.

Before an 1894 renovation, the kitchen may have had some similar qualities
Like those represented here.

In 2019, it is hard to imagine that there was ever a time where indoor plumbing, instant access to water, and electricity didn’t exist. The original residents of Huguenot Street did not have this luxury. As late as 1950’s, “one of the homes, the Bevier-Elting house, still didn’t have electricity” (29).

As the Deyo house was brought from the 19th into the 20th century, bathrooms, hot water radiators, and kitchen sinks were made possible. A more sanitary, healthy life came from these “new” improvements. These creature comforts are what we take for granted on a daily basis.

Among the appliances in the kitchen currently is a refrigerator, and an electric range. One of the highlights though is a precursor to the dishwasher, a Kohler brand electric sink.

Two ads touting the virtues of the Kohler Electric Sink, c. 1926-7

Originally invented in 1926, this appliance was designed to take the hassle out of washing three meals a day worth of dishes. Depending on the configuration a consumer ordered, the sink could have a work area for food preparation, one to three deep wells, and the optional dishwasher.

Another Kohler innovation was the sink’s composition. Made of enameled cast iron, for the first time, a color could be chosen, instead of the requisite white. The six choices were Old Ivory, Spring Green, Lavender, Autumn Brown, and Horizon Blue, which is the color of the Deyo House sink. It was possible to choose bathroom fixtures including a bathtub, sink, and toilet in the same color. An additional benefit of the sink’s surface was that it was easy to maintain and keep clean. Previously, drainboards were made from wood which could harbor bacteria, and possibly cause illness. When this sink was initially installed, the plumbing underneath was “exposed so repairs could be made without cutting of walls and floors” (87).

One of the upgrades to the sink was an electric dishwasher.

Clockwise from the top left: A closer shot of the sink, the lid for the dishwasher well, a close up of the stamped label (Courtesy of Ashley Trainer), A different sink with the intact dishwasher basket (army.arch/flickr).

The direct from Kohler ad campaigns were pretty persuasive. Pitches included:

  • “It’s time-saving, labor-saving, and step-saving.”
  • “The exemplar of the modern kitchen….a three times a day blessing….think of being able to end now, for the rest of your life, every bit of unwelcome labor that dishwashing has always meant.”
  • “The greatest contribution of science to the fine art of housekeeping.”
  • A personal favorite: The sink “washes dishes so gleaming clean, and does it so smoothly and easily, that the old, forbidding, thrice-daily drudgery becomes a thrice-daily pleasure.”

The 1920’s was the decade when home appliances were invented and perfected. More and more homes had access to electricity which amped up the demand for what some called “electric servants.” This products included the vacuum cleaner, stand-alone electric dishwasher, electric sewing machine, waffle iron, popcorn maker, washing machine, and refrigerator. Prices varied for these items, but credit was easily attained, so many homes had these helpers.

After some extensive research, there was no source that stated the cost of the sink at the time. According to the Kohler website, its production ended when the Great Depression started. Ironically, these sinks are desirable and valuable. Antique dealers and salvage companies sell this style for hundreds of dollars now.

Even though the Deyo House kitchen doesn’t match the rest of the house, it is quite interesting nonetheless. It is just another peek into a period of time that the home and its residents have experienced. Visitors can learn about another century when stepping into the post WWII kitchen, and that is a good thing.

~By Tina Staniscia

Works Cited and Sourced

Color List and Descriptions:

The Deyo House Furnishing Plan Author: Jacquetta Haley, Haley Research and Consulting, 160 Bennetts Farm Rd, Ridgefield, CT 06877, 2001 (pgs 82-92)

Kohler Color Timeline:

1920’s Price Guide:

Photo of Kohler Electric Sink basket:

Photo of Victorian Kitchen:

Photo of Kohler Ad:

Photo of Kohler Ad:

Vintage Kohler kitchen information:

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